#AWW2019 Book Review: “Portable Curiosities” by Julie Koh

Title: Portable Curiosities
Author: Julie Koh
Audio book narrator: Lauren Hamilton Neill
Genre: Short stories/satire
Target audience: Adult
Date Read:
10/11/19 – 25/11/19
Rating:
★★★

Review:

What an interesting collection of stories! As I’m getting into writing more short stories myself, I am finding myself drawn more to reading them. This collection from Julie Koh is clever, eyebrow-raising and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

The stories examine being Asian in a white world, being female in a male world, diversity, capitalism and consumerism, social media influencers, and many other aspects of the modern world. They do so in an absurdist, satirical way.

There were some that I really enjoyed, such as The Magnificent Breasts, an indictment on the male objectification of women, and they way women are gaslit into staying in abusive relationships.

I will be honest that there were others where I got to the end and wasn’t 100% sure what the story had been trying to say. But I really appreciated that these stories were speculative and funny as they satirised the world around us. I have found a lot of the short story genre tends to be very realistic, and lacking humour as it tries to be deep. Or maybe I’m just reading the wrong short stories? Either way, this was a nice break and I definitely intend to pick up Julie Koh’s other collection not too far in the future.


This review is part of my 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Click here for more information.

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#WWW and #WIPpet Wednesday – 10 February, 2016

Hello! And Happy Hump Day! I’m pretty excited because I’ve actually been writing this week. As I mentioned in my Sunday Summary, I’m taking a break from Worlds Apart and trying to find a new project. I’ve hit on an idea for the MsLexia Women’s Short Story Competition, so I’ve started working on that. In theory, it will be funny, a bit of a new adult comedy, but I have been known to set out to write lighthearted and end up bittersweet at best, or dark and moody at worst. So I’ll write my 2000 words and see what it turns out like.

wednesdaybannerOn that note, it’s time for WIPpet Wednesday, a blog hop that I look after in which writers come together and share snippets from their WIP that somehow relate to the date. You can visit other participants or join in yourself by clicking the blue guy at the top of the sidebar. Today I’ve subtracted the month from the date and have eight lines from the beginning of my new story. Amy receives this text message from the university at the end of what should be her final semester of university. See if you can spot the bit that makes her stomach plummet to the floor.

MS AMY MORTON
STUDENT ID 4848154
SEMESTER TWO, 2015
COURSE RESULTS:

ARTH1209            MARK 60              GRADE CREDIT
ENGL4001            MARK 65              GRADE CREDIT
ENGL4023            MARK 70              GRADE DISTINCTION
HIST8018              MARK 48              GRADE FAIL

Yeaaaah. That happened. (Also, I’m really wishing I had saved the texts I got from uni at the end of last year so that I could mimic them, because this is not what they actually look like, but I figure it’ll do).

On now to WWW Wednesday, where we answer three questions about our reading over the past week. This is hosted by Sam over A World of Words. You can link up on today’s post on Sam’s blog to join in.
wwwwednesday

  • What are you currently reading?

I started The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. I’ve followed Maureen on Twitter for ages so I felt it was about time I read one of her books. I’m not very far in yet, though, so I’m still waiting for the ghost/s to appear.

Also listening to the audio of The Secret River by Kate Grenville. I’m not loving it as much as I loved The Lieutenant but I’m going to try to get through the whole thing.

  • What did you recently finish reading?

I really loved The Girl From Everywhere by Heidi Heilig. There were a couple of things that annoyed me, like the fact that there was a love triangle (it was actually mostly okay, but now the three of them are traveling together so it has the potential to get annoying in the next book), and that the major conflict described in the blurb actually isn’t that huge in the story, but I still gave it 4.5 stars for the way it cleverly blended different cultures’ mythologies and history. My review will go up this Monday, which is its release day.

After that I read The Ghost Writer by Damon Norko, but it was a bit disappointing. I probably should have paid more attention to the fact that it listed literary fiction along with SFF as the genres on NetGalley. It was trying to be really ~meaningful~, but to be honest, I just found it dull. It’s less than 150 pages long and it took me three days to read. Three!

Yesterday I finished A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll & Hyde by Kevin MacNeil. It was… weird and I think trying for postmodern? I enjoyed a chunk around the middle but then the ending was pretty unsatisfying. I did pick it up at the library entirely based on the cover, though, so there was never a promise that I would love it.

Two reviews also went up this week, for Illuminae and The Gospel of Loki.

  • What do you think you’ll read next?

I got approved for Cogling by Jordan Elizabeth on NetGalley this morning, and I also have Dear Fatty by Dawn French and Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn sitting on my bedside chest. I picked those two up for free from a mysterious box that appeared at the back of my church with no explanation. So a few of us kind of just figured they were there to be taken.

A belated WIPpet Wednesday

Ohai, WIPpeteers. It’s been a little while. Uni work has been eating up my time, and sadly, leaving very little for writing. Boooo. I had expected to have time to write this post last night, but unfortunately, Easter hymn practice at my church went at least an hour longer than expected, and it was after 10 when I finally got home. After a stressful day at work, I wasn’t doing anything apart from falling into bed. However, it’s still Wednesday in some parts of the world, so here I am.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, I have finally finished Unicorn Love. Actually, when I was writing that post, I had only mostly finished it, as I still had a couple of final paragraphs to perfect. I think it’s there now, though. So, in light of that, I can totally still count it as a WIP for WIPpet Wedneday. Yesterday was the first, so I have one line of dialogue. This is Aphrodite is speaking to Lydia.

“Oh, forget about the silly deal. I can always find another cupid. You, on the other hand, will only get one second chance [at love*].”

*I added those last two words, just for some context. Aphrodite is encouraging Lydia to stop worrying so much and go for it.

I’m doing Camp NaNoWriMo in an attempt to properly plan what started as last year’s November NaNoWriMo. I don’t know how much of it is actually going to remain the same. So far, there have been mostly changes, with the exceptions two of the main characters staying the same. If/when bits of the actual story come to me, I intend to write them, so hopefully I’ll be able to return to WIPpet Wednesday full time soon.

In other news, I know we’re between ROW80 rounds right now, but I wanted to tick off this week’s goals anyway, and write some for the next week. This is what I intended to do last week:

  • Write review of Scarlet by Marissa Meyer – started, but not completed.
  • Write review of The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – done, at about 10:30 on Friday night when I realised it was review day and nothing had gone up yet.
  • Write review of Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park. – not done, and I might not worry about this, since I have read a few more recent books in the last week
  • Type up the end of Unicorn Love and send it out to my writing group for their consideration before submitting. – did the typing, am yet to send it out
  • Spend an hour continuing to format AMCF and compare two files with text-to-speech software. – don’t think it would have been an hour, but I have done this up to the end of chapter 10. I hope to have the rest done over the Easter break.
  • Research and write Module 3 750-word response for HIST8015 – done. It wasn’t amazing, but it’s only worth 5% of my grade, so…
  • Research and write Module 5 750-word response for HIST8015 – not done, as Module 3 took longer than I expected. Also, I decided to do Module 6 rather than 5.
  • Decide which essay questions I will use before meeting with lecturer on Monday (also HIST8015) – done. I think I’ve even thought of an angle for the essay.
  • Decide on an object to use for my significance report (MUSC8017) – not done, as there are far too many options and I am yet to narrow it down.

A lot of the not done stuff is due to motivation, and the fact that I spent a lot of the time when I wasn’t doing uni work just reading. I really just have to push myself to actually do the things I need to do. I have not only the four-day Easter weekend, but also Tuesday and Wednesday of next week off, so I want to be as productive as possible while still having a relaxing time off. I have a bunch of church services to prepare for/attend, as well as catching up with some friends, and that sort of thing. So, goals for the next week:

  • Read 1 hour a day and finish A Wicked Thing
  • Complete text-to-speech run-through of AMCF (8 chapters, so maybe 2 a day?)
  • Finish review of Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
  • Write review of Cress by Marissa Meyer
  • Write review of A Wicked Thing once finished reading
  • Make a list of books in uni libraries that may be useful for history essay
  • Spend an hour each day doing uni readings
  • Try to dot-point an essay plan
  • Remain on target for Camp NaNoWriMo (approx. 334 words a day = 2333 words by the end of Tuesday)

I think that’s about it for this week. I’ll hopefully also have time to catch up with you all on your blogs and see how your WIPs are going. Happy Easter to all, whether it’s of religious significance to you, or just an excuse to eat copious amounts of chocolate guilt-free. I’ll see you next Wednesday!

~ Emily

#WIPpet Wednesday – “Make no mistake” + #ROW80 Update

cupidI’m going to start my post with WIPpet Wednesday, so that those who are only visiting for that don’t have to scroll through all my lists in my ROW80 update. For those who don’t know WIPpet Wednesday is a weekly blog hop where writers come together and share excerpts from their WIPs. The only rule is that it has to somehow relate to the date. The linky is here. I’ve got three paragraphs from Unicorn Love. After Aphrodite informs Lydia that she was responsible for Lydia and her (now ex-)boyfriend, David, coming together in the first place, she drops another bombshell: David is moving back to town.

“He’s been offered a job here, and he’s hoping that enough time has passed that he can deal with the return.”

“Then I imagine he’ll be trying to avoid me at all costs.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” Lydia tilted her head at her boss. “Five years later and he’s still got your number on his phone. His fingers have hovered over it more than once in the past few weeks, though he’s talked himself out of calling you every time. Make no mistake, Lydia, you are certainly on his mind.”

As you’ll see below, I have basically finished Unicorn Love. The whole story is there, I just need to polish some of it up.

Onto a ROW80 update. ROW80 is the Writing Challenge That Knows You Have Life. Last week I decided to try setting myself some weekly goals to see if it helped with my time management. I think it was really beneficial and I’m definitely going to keep doing it. Here’s how the last week went:

  • Complete readings for critical exhibition review for MUSC8017 – completed Monday night
  • Get first draft of critical exhibition review up to 750/1500 words for MUSC8017 – I got it to 736 words, which is close enough.
  • Complete Module 2 forum discussion response for HIST8015 – I wanted to do this last night, but ended up being too tired. Howeverm Module 2 runs for this week as well, so I’m okay.
  • Do 50% of readings for Module 2 online exercise (HIST8015) – ditto
  • Write a review of Cinder to go up on here on Friday – done and done!
  • Finish second draft of Unicorn Love. – also done! Though the final scene is awful and basically needs a complete do-over. But I’m having some away time for a little while before I do that.
  • Visit 5 ROW80 blogs and at least 50% of the WIPpet Wednesday blogs – while I only got to maybe 30% of the WIPpet blogs, I did visit some ROW80 blogs after the Sunday check-in (even though I don’t actually participate in that one myself).

row80Additionally to everything above, I also brainstormed a new short story on my lunch break on Monday. I wrote a little of it during a meeting on Monday afternoon but I think I will wait until I’m on a computer to really start it in earnest. I’m quite enjoying the short story writing, even though I don’t know what I’m really going to do with them later.

So, goals for this week. We have a long weekend in my state this week, so an extra day for doing things! 😀 (though that day will probably be reserved for housework, as my other half is working anyway, so I’ll have the house to myself)

  • Write review of Redshirts by John Scalzi
  • Spend an hour each day reading
  • Write 500-1000 words on First Christmas*
  • Complete A Day In My Life post for LiveJournal.
  • Visit 50% of WIPpet posts and at least 5 ROW80 blogs
  • Complete Critical Exhibition Review for MUSC8017
  • Plan 750-word response for HIST8015

*I actually have no idea how long this story will be, but this will be a good start on it.

This is how I’ll achieve these goals:

  • Write Redshirts review tonight
  • Spend an hour writing tonight with the Internet turned off
  • Organise photos and post ADIML post tomorrow
  • Spend an hour tomorrow finding sources for history assignment
  • Dedicate Saturday to critical exhibition review. Ask Edy to assist with structure, as well as making sure what I think is critical analysis is in fact critical analysis.
  • Spend two hours on Sunday doing reading for 750-word response. Make notes.
  • Spend an hour (or two if necessary) on Sunday dot-pointing a plan for response.
  • Spread out blog visits over the weekend.

If some of the weekend tasks spill over into Monday, that’s okay, but I’d like to have one full day of the long weekend to enjoy if I can manage it. (I know what you’re thinking: “Enjoy? But you said you were doing housework.” Yes, well, I’m one of those people who gets immeasurable pleasure and satisfaction from cleaning).

We’re waiting for dinner to be delivered right now, but I think I will go start on my Redshirts review. I’ll catch up with you all soon!

~ Emily

December26 (2): Well, that’s awkward…

Prompt: write a story about a writer who reads/writes fanfiction of his own characters. Taken from /r/WritingPrompts (I didn’t actually know there were non-scary parts of Reddit).

It was always kind of funny when someone “yelled” at Rob, all in capital letters, telling him that Sirena and Michael would never have got together like that, and how way off base he was. He was well aware of that, and he wrote it as an experiment. There was never any telling how angry fans were going to get, though. He wondered how they’d react if they knew it was him writing the pairing they so despised.

He’d had to spend a fair bit of time on Urban Dictionary, learning the meanings of terms like “I can’t even!” and “My feels!” but he now knew enough that he could maintain a conversation while sounding like one of his own fans. He just had to remember not to mention too many things that weren’t actually specified in the books, or to at least frame it as an interpretation and not canon if he did mention it.

His only regret? Not learning what a “kink meme” is before he clicked the link…

December 26 – A Blind Date Gone Wrong…

Prompt: Your main character is an anxious 39-year-old woman. The story begins in a stately home. A blind date is the start of something big. The theme of the story is pride.

“It’s a… uh, nice place here, isn’t it?” Judy sat down in the chair the waiter had pulled out for her. She placed her hands on the table and tried to wring them too much. She didn’t want to show how nervous she was.

“A beautiful spot,” Eric agreed. “The house was built in the 1740s on the instruction of Lord Matheson.”

“I see.” Judy didn’t really know anything about the history of the stately home in whose restaurant they were eating, or who Lord Matheson had been. She wondered how much else Eric knew about it.

“Would sir and madam like to begin with drinks?” the waiter asked.

“Oh, yes, please,” said Eric. “Judy, what would you like?”

“Oh, um… red wine, please.”

Eric scanned the wine list and pointed to one. “A bottle, please.”

“Of course, sir.”

When the waiter was gone, Eric leaned forward toward Judy and it was all she could do to not lean back away from him. She bit her lip.

“So,” he said, “tell me about yourself.”

“Oh, well, there’s not much to tell, really. I work for an insurance company. I have an English major.” She shrugged, not quite making eye contact. “What else do you want to know?”

“Oh, come on, I’m sure there’s plenty more to know. What’s your favourite colour? Favourite holiday destination? What are your hobbies?”

He was asking the questions very quickly and Judy tried to remember them in order. This felt more like a job interview than a date.

“All right. My favourite colour is yellow. I… I don’t really have a favourite holiday destination. I don’t really go anywhere much.”

“That’s a shame. Why not?”

“Well, I… I don’t like going to places I don’t know.”

“You came here today.”

“Well, yes, but I’ve driven past this place before. It’s sort of familiar.” From his expression, Judy was fairly sure that he didn’t buy that reason, true as it was for her. “What about you?” she asked quickly, steering the conversation away from herself. “Where do you go on holidays?”

“Well, I’ve been quite a few places around Europe, recently. I took my daughter to Greece over the summer, for instance.”

“Greece. Lovely.” Judy was trying her hardest not to feel in adequate.

“Oh! I almost forgot.” Eric leaned down and picked up a small bag that he had placed under the table earlier. “I know we don’t know each other yet, but I brought you something.”

“Oh… you didn’t have to do that.” Judy wondered if that was customary, and if she should have brought something to. It was a blind date. Surely gifts weren’t expected?

“Give me your hand,” said Eric, drawing a silver bracelet out of the bag. Judy’s eyes widened. It looked expensive. She drew her hand back, not letting him slip the bracelet over her wrist.

“I’m sorry, Eric, I can’t accept this.”

“Oh, don’t be like that. Please, take it.”

“No, I…” Judy took a deep breath. She hated having to do this. “Look, Eric, I’m sorry, I’m not sure this is going to work.”

“We haven’t even been here that long.”

“No, we haven’t. And you’re already giving me expensive jewellery. I’m sorry, that’s just too fast.”

“Well.” Eric looked as embarrassed as Judy felt. “At least help me drink the wine we’ve already ordered.”

“All right. I’m sorry to be like this.”

“No, it’s… it’s all right. I suppose I should have thought a bit more.”

Thankfully, the wine arrived soon after, and they were able to distract themselves. The waiter did seem a little surprised when Eric informed him they would no longer be staying for lunch, but he didn’t ask questions.

Once they had finished, Judy pulled some money out of her purse and gave it to Eric before he could object. There was no way she was going to let him insist on paying. The wine wasn’t the cheapest, so she was certainly chipping in. As they stood before Eric went to pay, Judy held out her hand.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out,” she said.

“Better to nip it in the bud than let it quickly turn into something awful, I suppose.”

“Yes. It was nice to meet you, though.”

“You, too, Judy. Good luck.”

With that, Eric moved towards the counter while Judy made her way to the door. When she reached her car, she couldn’t help but sigh in relief. Perhaps now the people who had been trying in vain to set her up with someone would let up.

December 23 – Only for one night…

Author’s note: Prompt is the opening line. All my writing is becoming Christmas-y lately. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😀 I was actually hoping it would end up a little longer and deeper, but not to worry.

It was only for one night. Darren supposed he could manage that. Maybe earn some karma points. His girlfriend, Erin, had volunteered them both to help out at the local soup kitchen on Christmas Eve. She hadn’t consulted him, but how do you back out of something like that?

When they arrivead, they were each presented with a Santa hat and loud wished for a Merry Christmas. Since neither of them had been there before, they were introduced to the regular organisers, before being led around into the kitchen area, where three Bain-maries were full of various seasonal foods. Darren and Erin were put on stations there, along with two others.

It wasn’t very long before the recipients of the food began arriving. Those who volunteered regularly greeted several of the guests by name. Darren flinched at a couple of them. Their clothes were tatty, some had holes where you didn’t really want holes to be, and some of them really did smell like they hadn’t showered in a week. But he found that the other volunteers seemed to be able to ignore all that, and that once he got chatting, so could he.

Once the food had been dished out, the volunteers sat down with their guests. Toasts were made, grace was said, and then they all tucked in together. Darren was sitting next to a man who was trying to find a job so he could begin supporting his kids again. As they talked, Darren found himself thinking about how he might really help this guy out. He would certainly have wanted some sort of support if it were him in the situation.

When they got back in the car at the end of the night, Erin turned to Darren. “That wasn’t bad, was it?”

“Actually, it was kind of awesome,” Darren admitted.

“And who was grumbling all the way here?”

“All right, you win. Maybe we should come back in the New Year. Do this more often.”

“I like the sound of that.”

December 22 – On a deserted island…

Author’s note: I sort of gave up on the short story writing for last week. I just had too many things on, and reading was easier in the downtime. However, now that the Christmas play I was working on is finished up, and that the Christmas break is upon us, it’s time to knuckle down and complete a story each day for the rest of the year. The prompt for this one was the opening line.

~*~

She clung onto the piece of driftwood, praying for daylight. The water was bitter cold, and she had no idea how far she’d drifted. She didn’t know if any of her shipmates had survived. All she could do is hope there was shore in sight when the sun came up, and hope that it was land that she could make some use of.

She was starting to get tired. The adrenaline that had been coursing through her since the storm hit was starting to wear off and she was beginning to crash. She leaned her head against the driftwood, and closed her eyes, hoping that would provide enough respite and give her the strength to hold on a bit longer.

Time dragged on, and then finally, she saw a hint of gold on the horizon. And just in front of it, a small greenish-brown mound. She couldn’t believe her luck. She felt so relieved she nearly let go of her piece of wood, and caught herself just in time to avoid sinking. She’d held on for far too long for it to come to that. Slowly, she paddled herself around with one arm, and began making her way towards the distant shoreline. When she reached it, she pulled herself onto the sand and then sank down on her back, relishing the fact that she could relax.

She felt herself drift off to sleep and didn’t do anything to stop it. It felt far too soon when she felt someone shaking her awake. Grumpily, she opened her eyes. As her eyes focused, she realised there was a figure leaning over her. And as she focused some more, she realised she recognised him.

“Alec?” she said, her voice strained. She hadn’t realised how much she needed water until now.

“Mia! You’re alive!”

“So are you!”

She tried to sit up so she could embrace him, but her muscles were far too stiff, and she failed halfway up.

“Don’t try to move,” Alec said. “Here. I’ve got some water.”

“Is it safe?”

“Yes. It’s warm, but it does the trick.”

He held the flask to her lips and poured gently. She swallowed as much as she could before she started coughing. Alec put one arm behind her back and helped her sit up. She leaned over and spat out some of the water, along with any sea water that came up. When she had finished coughing, she turned back to Alec.

“Have you seen anyone else?”

He shook his head. “Not yet. Who knows where they got swept to?”

Mia looked around. “What are we going to do now?”

Alec followed her gaze. The island they had ended up on was barely more than a sandbank, with a few trees in the centre.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But we’ll think of something. We’re going to get home, Mia.”

“I hope you’re right,” she said.

“I know I am.”

December 14 – White Christmas

Author’s note: I didn’t like any of the prompts I generated today, so I just came up with something on my own. Another Christmas story, Yay! Sorry for any typos and such things, I wrote this on my tablet on the bus and I’m posting using shopping centre wifi before I head to a rehearsal for a Christmas play I’m helping out with next week.

“Pete! Pete! Wake up, wake up, wake up!”

Megan bounced onto the bed and shook her boyfriend. He groaned and pulled the duvet over his head. Megan immediately pulled it back again.

“Pete, it’s Christmas and it’s snowing! You told me I wouldn’t get to see snow on Christmas!”

Slowly, Pete opened his eyes halfway and stared out at Megan. “What?” he said when his brain finally managed to communicate with his mouth.

“Snowing!” Megan exclaimed again. “Come on, get your coat!”

Megan was already half dressed, and only needed to pull on another couple of top layers and her coat before she was ready. While Pete dragged himself out of bed and began getting dressed, she pulled her hair up into a ponytail that she then stuffed into a beanie.

A few minutes later, Peter found Megan by their front door, bouncing from foot to foot in anticipation.

“Haven’t you seen snow before, woman?” he asked, nodding towards the door to indicate he was ready and that they could go out.

“Where I come from, we start complaining about the cold when it hits ten degrees. Celsius.”

“Bloody Australians.”

The snow wasn’t very deep, but it was enough that Megan could mold snowballs in her hands and peg them at Pete. He was much adept at ducking them than she was, and she ended up with a few wet patches on her jumper where he managed to hit her. Other families, mostly children, were appearing in the their own front yards and joyful squeals abounded up and down the street.

Soon the cold was starting to seep through Megan’s several layers of clothing and her teeth were chattering. She squatted down long enough to make make a tiny snowman (his body was only four handfuls of snow) and stuck a twig in his head for a nose, then she and Pete headed back inside to begin getting ready for the rest of the day.

“Well, you got your snow, then,” Pete said, turning the heater on the crossing to the kettle to fill it up. “Do you actually need any other presents now?”

Megan grinned. “Not really,” she said. She moved closer to him and kissed him on the nose. “Merry Christmas.”

December 13 – Uh… whoops?

Author’s note: I had a couple of days where no matter what prompt I gave myself, no ideas were forthcoming. Which I think is at least partially due to an unfortunate habit I have of over-thinking and not just rolling with the prompt. Tonight was shaping up to be another, but I told myself I really ought to be not be lazy, and so I got on with it. Also, I don’t know where all these dark stories are coming from, I’m not that sort of person, really! This is another one where the opening line was the prompt.

~*~

Ricky hadn’t meant to scare him. Well, he sort of had, but how was he to know that Tom was holding a gun at the time? It was just a “Boo” over the shoulder. Now he was vaguely aware of Tom freaking out and trying to explain what had happened to the person on the other end of the emergency services line. Other people had run into the room to see what the noise was, and he could hear their voices as well, but his vision was dimming and their words were muffled. He wasn’t scared, though; somehow he’d detached himself from the whole situation and was wondering what the hell had made Tom so jittery. He supposed it would probably come to light eventually, but the last thing to go through his head was that he wasn’t likely to be the one to find out…